LAST WEEK, in a surprise turnabout, the D.C. Council passed a bill prohibiting a public vote on the fate of the civic center. The council's decision was correct; there is no need for a vote on the project. Those who wanted a referendum on the center argued that the public has a right to decide whether it should be built. The truth is, the public has already decided. The council-elected by "the public"-has supported the project on three separate occasions; candidates in last year's council and mayoral campaigns talked publicly about their positions on the center. Moreover, congressional hearings, public-opinion polls and studies have elicited hundreds of statements from local citizens on the merits of the center.
Despite all this, those opposed to the center contend that District voters must have a direct say in how the city's money should be spent. But the District's elected officials are themselves empowered by the public to determine much of what goes into the city's budget. They must be accountable to the voters for their actions. But they should not be stripped of that power whenever groups of citizens decide that specific items in that budget are unworthy or unpopular.
To their credit, city officials have been moving ahead. Nearly $27 million already has been committed to the project; all of the land needed for the center has been purchased and money is being provided for the relocation of residents and businesses in the area. And more than $4 million in business-surcharge and hotel taxes has been collected to defray the initial costs of the center.
A lot of District residents are looking forward to the civic center; they see an opportunity for more jobs, an expanded local tax base and an increase in downtown commercial activity. They want the work on the center to proceed so that its costs do not continue to increase from inflation. There is no need to delay the project further; the public and the elected officials of the District have already decided in favor of the center.